Home   Maidstone   News   Article

We take on Concern Worldwide's ration challenge to mark Refugee Week

More than 100,000 people have taken on Concern Worldwide's 'Ration Challenge,' during successive Refugee Weeks, aiming to replicate the diet of refugees.

We challenged reporter Liane Castle to take it on. She was only allowed to eat the same foods a Syrian refugee living in a camp in Jordan would be given for seven days.

The Concern Worldwide ration challenge tool kit and ingredients
The Concern Worldwide ration challenge tool kit and ingredients

Before taking on this challenge, I'd done a lot of research. I knew exactly what food I'd be eating and what it involved, but when the ration box landed on my doorstep I was taken aback by how tiny it was.

I thought 'How on earth is there enough food inside that to feed me for seven days?'

It contains a packet of dried chickpeas, lentils, a bag of rice, a tin of sardines and a tin of kidney beans (I'm a vegetarian so I swapped the sardines for tofu as recommended by the charity).

I also got three 'food coupons' allowing me to purchase some flour, vegetable oil and some extra rice.

That's it. That's all I had for the next seven days and it had to last me through breakfast, lunch and dinner totalling 21 meals, plus snacks.

My optimistic smile soon diminished
My optimistic smile soon diminished

If you do the maths it works out to be around 1,738 kcal per person per day, that's well under the minimum energy requirements for the average adult which is around 2,100 kcal.

It's shocking when you see the numbers side-by-side but the reality is, this is what refugees survive on and sometimes there isn’t enough to go around, so they will have to share.

The challenge has been designed by charity Concern Worldwide to reflect as closely as possible what it's like for refugees living in camps to rely on food rations.

According to the charity, there are 80 million refugees and displaced people across the world, the largest since records began, and many of these people will have to eat this food day in, day out.

While it's impossible to experience exactly how they live their lives and how they must be feeling, replicating their dinners help to humanise the devastation conflict has caused to so many families.

My first meal, rice and kidney beans with flatbread
My first meal, rice and kidney beans with flatbread

When I started the challenge, day one flew by and actually, I didn'5t mind the food.

Making flatbread is surprisingly easy and it's definitely something I'll be doing more often now that I know how.

For breakfast I had congee, a sticky kind of rice that sort of resembles porridge. For lunch I had toasted flatbread and for dinner I had rice and kidney beans.

I won't lie, it was all a bit bland as I expected and I would have loved to have mixed in a dollop of melting butter to the rice, but overall I enjoyed it.

Naturally, I made way too much so I saved a lot of my meal for lunch the following day.

Lentil soup, not the most exciting but it filled me up for the night
Lentil soup, not the most exciting but it filled me up for the night

After the success of day one, I went into day two feeling quietly optimistic, but my mood quickly shifted.

By mid morning I began to feel quite unwell.

At the time I just thought I was tired from the sleepless nights in the unbearable sticky heat, but looking back I now realise it was the caffeine withdrawal kicking in.

I didn't quite realise just how addicted to coffee I was until I had to go without it.

I only usually drink one cup a day and that's first thing in the morning.

Falafel and rice. Really nice but I would have given anything to dip them in ketchup
Falafel and rice. Really nice but I would have given anything to dip them in ketchup

I tried to wean myself off it in the days before starting the challenge but I didn't realise giving it up would be so hard.

It wasn't until day three when I spoke to a colleague I made the connection.

Part of me is ashamed to say I caved in and drank half a cup of coffee but in all honesty, the fact I felt 10 times better after an hour of sipping the steaming hot liquid I knew I'd done the right thing by my body.

I felt brilliant and my concentration levels were instantly back on track.

From then on I managed to cope with just half a cup every other day and while I wanted more, I appreciated that boiling a kettle for a quick coffee break when they're feeling a bit tired is not something refugees have the luxury of doing and I felt I owed it to them to keep going.

My attempt at the rice cake recipe. I won't be making these again
My attempt at the rice cake recipe. I won't be making these again

By day four 'rice brain' was well and truly kicking in.

You might have heard of the term 'baby brain' before - when people can't think straight while pregnant or soon after having a baby - well it turns out if all you eat is rice, the same thing happens.

I remember on Wednesday it took me at least six attempts to send one simple email because when I was reading it back, I just couldn't make sense of what I'd written.

The same night my ever so supportive family decided it was the prime time to tuck into a variety of deep pan pizzas and the smell wafted through the house while I attempted to salvage my tofu, kidney bean and rice patties which crumbled into a million disappointing pieces.

I'd began to realise at this point the challenge is about moulding the same foods into different shapes each night with the hope I might miraculously discover a new flavour.

Tofu, rice and kidney bean 'burgers' in flatbread. They quickly became a crumbling mess
Tofu, rice and kidney bean 'burgers' in flatbread. They quickly became a crumbling mess

Then on Thursday I ventured into Maidstone town centre to interview a restaurant owner.

Normally this would be a simple task but I made the mistake of going around lunchtime and all the aromas oozing from the kitchen were testing me to my limits and certainly stole my concentration.

But I didn't cave in. Instead I drove home to a steaming bowl of plain boiled rice and dry leftover falafel. Nobody can ever say I'm not dedicated to my job.

By day six and seven, the thought of eating yet more congee for breakfast only made me feel nauseous and I began dreaming of all the foods I'd be able to eat when the challenge was over.

By the end of the week my energy levels dwindled and power naps on my lunch breaks became a common theme to give me the boost I needed until dinner time.

Yes, I broke the rules with the coffee, and others can probably provide better examples of good practice, but the biggest thing taking part in this challenge has taught me is to appreciate what I have.

Some refugees living in camps have to survive off this food for years.

And if the situation wasn't bad enough already, the coronavirus has been catastrophic for refugees who were already living a nightmare.

Its impact means many more will face devastating hunger.

When you read the stories of Fatima, Aida and Anjy in the recipe book, and the beautiful lives they lived with their children before their homes were ripped apart by war, you realise just how important challenges like this are and suddenly eating another bowl of rice doesn't seem so bad.

Read more: All the latest news from Kent

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More